534. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Justice if she will consider allowing Afghan citizens temporary refuge in Ireland while awaiting confirmation of their citizenship applications in other countries (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [54488/21]


Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): I share the Deputy’s concerns for the Afghan people and the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding in Afghanistan.
However, there is no provision in immigration or international protection legislation that would allow for the scenario suggested by the Deputy. Furthermore, there are no administrative schemes that would provide for the granting of temporary residence or protection for Afghan nationals awaiting an immigration decision from another jurisdiction, such as the US.
Ireland has acted swiftly and compassionately to demonstrate our support and solidarity with the Afghan people. My Department is working closely with colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to ensure a coordinated national response.
This includes opening the Irish Refugee Protection Programme under Minister O'Gorman's remit to Afghan persons in need of protection and working to ensure that applications received from Afghan nationals under the various State schemes for immigration residence and international protection can be prioritised for speedier processing where possible. These schemes provide avenues for Afghan nationals to seek protection and for eligible family members living in Ireland to seek to have their close family members granted permission to reside in Ireland, where the relevant criteria are met. More than 740 Afghan nationals have already been granted permissions to reside in the State so far this year.
The Government has also approved an additional initiative: the special Afghan Admission Programme, which will provide places for up to 500 Afghan family members. Each applicant will have an opportunity to nominate up to four family members who are currently residing in Afghanistan or who have fled to neighbouring territories and whom they consider would be especially at risk in terms of their freedom and safety.
The Programme, including the detailed eligibility criteria and the application process, will be developed over the coming months, with a view to issuing a call for applications in December.
The Programme is unique across the EU and was hailed by the UNHCR as a very welcome commitment by Ireland that will bring much solace to Afghans who are worried about their relatives abroad.
In the meantime, all current immigration avenues remain open for new applications, including visa and family reunification applications. My Department will process any new applications received speedily and sympathetically.